The village leaflet for the historic Dorchester on Thames in Oxfordshire describes three short walks. Two of them go south from the village to the River Thames, one via the River Thame and the other direct to Day’s Lock on the Thames Path National Trail.
But those walks, in the shadow of Wittenham Clumps on the far side of the river, are no longer across an open, untrammelled landscape. Thanks to the activities of the new owner of Bishop’s Court Farm, former UKIP treasurer Andrew Reid, walkers are fenced in and constrained.
He is clearly aware that his actions are unpopular; this notice has gone up in the last month.
On Tuesday evening (10 January), on behalf of the Open Spaces Society, I shall help to launch a campaign in Dorchester to restore people’s rights to the paths and spaces south of the village.
Mr Reid has put up barbed-wire fencing across paths which people have used for decades, he has filched the width of some of the existing recorded routes, and has restricted access to popular open spaces including the magnificent Dyke Hills, a significant iron-age earthwork and scheduled ancient monument.
On 1 November Oxfordshire County Council received notices from Mr Reid declaring that he accepted no routes on his land as public highways other than those on the definitive map (section 31(6) of the Highways Act 1980), and that he was bringing to an end any period during which the public might have enjoyed informal recreation on any part of his land (section 15A(1) of the Commons Act 2006). These declarations constitute a challenge to people’s use of any routes as of right, and to any land as a village green (land on which local people have enjoyed informal recreation for 20 years without being stopped or asking permission).
The declarations set the clock ticking in the case of land which might be eligible for registration as a village green: local people have until 31 October 2017 to gather evidence and put in an application to Oxfordshire County Council for greens on Mr Reid’s land. They intend to apply to register as greens land at the eastern end of the Dyke Hills, and the meadow close to Day’s Lock, which have been fenced off. They have evidence of use of both areas for the past 20 years.
As for the paths, they aim to apply to record the full width of the paths which are already shown on the definitive map, with the aim of getting the fencing moved off the public highway, and they want to claim other, unrecorded routes which have been obstructed by fencing.
At the public meeting on Tuesday evening people will come with memories of their enjoyment of the land and use of the paths. With the local activists, I shall lend a hand to those wishing to complete evidence forms and will help to give the campaign a good start.